Pre-race: I started preparing a few days beforehand for the big weekend when I forced myself to pack my drop bags ahead of time so as to not have to scramble at the last minute. Since I was going solo, and because it was a local race, I had one at all aid stations. It was a bit embarrassing with my 11 bags, but I figured that it’s better to have one there and not use it, than not having one when I needed it, especially because that was my first AC, and wasn’t sure what to expect.
Thursday night, I met up with Norm Richardson who was doing the Last Great Race, and went to a nearby Italian restaurant. We chatted briefly about our previous races, with his most recent one less than a week ago at Wasatch. We called it an early night, since there was a long weekend ahead of us.
Friday morning started out with me picking up Norm at his hotel, then swinging over to get Robert Andrulis, who was flying into Burbank from AZ — AC was going to be his second 100 miler. After getting Robert, we headed over to Johnson Field (the finish line), where I left my car, since it was a point-to-point race. Xy “Dirty Girl Gaiters” Weiss will be driving all of us to the start at Wrightwood, about an hour-and-a-half east in her new ultra-mobile — a black Hummer.
We met with Xy and Eugene Trahern (from Sisters, OR), then we all crammed our gear and ourselves for the drive out to the start. The drive over was shorter than expected, so we arrived early enough for the med check, get our drop bags ready, and checkin to our rooms.
When we got there, we saw Jorge Pacheco and his wife, and a handful of other early arrivals. Inside the community center, I signed in, and Hal Winton handed me my race packet, consisting of a t-shirt and bib numbers. I got weighed in (134#) and my blood pressure and pulse taken (62bpm and 143/99 — probably not accurate) by the volunteer firemen.
The pre-race meeting started at 2pm, so we had time to get some breakfast, which we all did at the Evergreen Cafe. We were joined by Kyle Hoang and one of his friends Mike — their first 100, and Mike’s first ultra. After our meal, we had a bit of time to kill, so we checked into our rooms at the Pines, and headed over to the grocery store for some last minute food/drink items.
Start to Inspiration Point (5:00-7:13): My alarm was set for 3:30, which was very difficult for me since I didn’t get much sleep the night before due to very loud neighbors who kept me awake until well after midnight discussing race tactics like how to hand off gel packets, which in most other times I would’ve found amusing. I quickly got ready, packed up, and walked over to the Pines. I dropped my bag off at Xy’s Hummer, and went over to the Village Grind coffee place that opened at 4am specifically to serve the runners for a shot of espresso. By the time I walked back, everyone had checked out and was headed over to the start. I am not very social before the beginning of a race, so I kept to myself mostly, observing the surrounding activity — buzzing of nervous and excited runners, most of them eager to start running, including myself.
We snapped some photos of our Hummer group sans Xy (camera shy? no…maybe just too early in the morning), stretched, made a trip to the restroom (which was surprisingly empty), and eventually walked over to the start line a few feet outside the front door in the parking lot of the community center. I stood towards the side of the banner, and glanced over to look at some of the runners — most I would’ve been seeing for the last time that weekend. A short countdown, a somewhat unenthusiastic yell from the crowd, and we were off.
A quick right turn out of the lot, up the main street of Wrightwood, turn right at the top, head a couple blocks west, then onto Acorn Drive. The cold start quickly was forgotten as we immediately set out for a long climb up to the PCT — 2500′ in less than 3 miles. It’s always neat to see the long stretch of lights as we made our way along the series of single-track switchbacks, with the sun starting to rise, and the view of city lights becoming visible near the peak. Just like the section around Turquoise Lake at Leadville, it’s difficult to pass there, so it’s advisable to get with a group going at your pace before you hit the trailhead at the end of Acorn.
Turn right at the top, almost 2 hours after the start, and we were on the PCT, with the desert floor to the right of us as the sun greeted the runners, and signaling a beautiful day ahead. I wanted to take it easy there, but it was hard to hold back due to the abundant amounts of energy and adrenaline I had, and still very fresh legs.
We ran along the ridge, then approached the Mountain High ski resort where I caught up with Robert Baird who I met and did some training runs with earlier in the year. We chatted and ran together briefly, as we approached our first aid station at Inspiration Point, just over 2 hours into the race. I didn’t even slow down there, and shot right through.
Inspiration Point to Vincent Gap (7:13-8:02): that section went by pretty quickly, and I realized that was close to a 24-25 hour pace — a bit too fast perhaps? So far, we’ve covered just under 14 miles, in about 3 hours. I was feeling good — no Achilles problem like I was expecting. My appetite was relatively normal for me, but still wasn’t eating as much as I should have — I was primarily “sipping” on my Hammer Gel, which for me was a relatively new thing I started on recently at Leadville. In a few minutes, we came up to the Grassy Hollow Visitors Center, and continued along the PCT towards Vincent Gap, which would come into view shortly.
Once into Vincent Gap, where I got to my first drop bag, I had a volunteer fill my 3L bladder while I tried eating some solid food — only a couple cookies, which I figured was better than nothing. I was now facing the big climb up to Baden-Powell, which I’ve never done before, so in a way I was looking forward to it, at the same time, I was a little nervous. The temperature was still relatively comfortable, but it was pretty warm for being only 8 o’clock in the morning.
Vincent Gap to Islip Saddle (8:05-11:03): The climb started immediately out of the parking lot — a series of switchbacks on singletrack that seemed like it would never end. Every so often, we would come across some signs indicating the elevation, but most of them were unreadable. I knew though, that we’d have to do almost 3000′ of climbing to the course high point which was about 9400′. Mostly everyone carries extra water for the 12 mile stretch between Vincent Gap and Islip Saddle, and it takes most runners about 2.5-3 hours to cover that section.
I got to what appeared to be as high as we would go at about 9:30, and my altimeter read just over 9100′, which could’ve been slightly off, but not more than a few feet. From there, it was primarily a nice downhill section into Islip Saddle, where I made up some time lost going up (I’m a slow uphill climber).
As soon as I crossed the highway and entered the parking lot, I was weighed in — only lost 1 pound since medical check yesterday. I typically am fine with my weight, so I wasn’t worried. I filled my water again, drank a Starbucks Double Shot, had a cookie, and off I went to start another climb — about 1500′ to the top of Mt Williamson. From that point on, I’ve run on the course at least once during training, so I knew what to expect.
Islip Saddle to Eagle’s Roost (11:10-12:16): It was now pretty warm, but still tolerable, as I thought about how it would be like going through Cooper Canyon coming up. Not as many switchbacks going up that section, but
it was a nice grade, although a bit more tree-cover would’ve been nice.
That climb wasn’t long, but that’s because I was comparing it to the ones we had up until then — it took only 30 minutes to get to the top.
We dropped down the other side of Williamson, then crossed the highway at Kratka Ridge, which I got to around just after noon. Shortly thereafter, Eagle’s Roost (mile 30) came into sight, which was just before we would be dropping into Cooper Canyon. That was where I was greeted by Gary, Judy Gilbert’s fiance (who both recently moved to LA only a few weeks before) — a nice surprise. I had a cold soda there, which really hit the spot, as the temperatures were now peaking, and would prepare me for the potentially hot section in the canyon.
Eagle’s Roost to Cloudburst Summit (12:20-14:19): I said goodbye to Gary, crossed the road, then started the descent into Cooper Canyon where I saw Judy who snapped a photo as I ran by. Mostly everyone talks about how hot and buggy that section is, so I was expecting the worst, even though when I ran through there last during training a few weeks back, it wasn’t bad at all — it was no different during race day. In fact, I tend to like that part of the course as it’s the first time the trail runs parallel to a stream, which made it very pleasant. I also did not have problems with bugs there, but did feel like the time it took to get out of the canyon was extremely long. I ran alone for most of that section, but towards the end, Gabor had caught me, and we chatted briefly before he went ahead.
Cloudburst Summit to Three Points (14:25-15:30): I saw Gary and Judy again, and also JR (Wendy’s husband) who said she was doing good, and that she’d catch me soon.
I realized I had slowed down quite a bit since earlier in the day, and it was mainly because I was starting to get some hot spots (if it hadn’t already turned into blisters that is). Because of that, I had (sub)-consciously altered my gait, which was putting unnecessary pressure onto my left foot. In retrospect, I should’ve taken care of it there, but figured I’d make it to Chilao where I planned to change shoes/socks, and didn’t want to “waste time” by doing it earlier. Also, I refused to believe that I could get blisters because in all my previous races, I never had problems, regardless of the terrain, conditions, distance, etc. Therefore, after convincing myself that I was immune to getting blisters, I was waiting for it to go away, and just “run it off”.
I went by Camp Glenwood about 15:00, so I knew I was about 1.5 miles out from Three Points, but still a long way from Chilao.
Three Points to Mt Hillyer (15:34-17:12): It felt as if I’d never get out of the canyon for some reason, and it definitely felt longer than an hour since I’d left Cloudburst. I saw the leader board next to the aid station, but wasn’t even interested in looking, so I knew I wasn’t in the greatest shape there, and just wanted to get to Chilao. I knew I still had to get to Mt Hillyer first, so I made my way out as quickly as possible, running on some rolling terrain for a little while, until we dropped down to the end of the dirt section then onto some asphalt for a long climb to Mt Hillyer.
Mt Hillyer to Chilao Flats (17:18-18:21): I left the aid station with a couple other runners, as the sun was starting to set. That section was the most technical thus far — somewhat rocky, with drop-offs that didn’t make it any easier on my battered (and probably blistered) feet. There were many sandstone rock formations, and seemed like a spot where people went to boulder. After passing Horse Flats Campground, we got dropped off onto an asphalt road that cut through the campground, turned left, and ran about a half-mile into the aid station.
Chilao Flats to Shortcut Saddle (18:38-20:33): Another weight check — down a pound. A volunteer grabbed my drop bag while I sat and took off my shoes, afraid to see the damage. It wasn’t as bad as I thought — relatively small blisters on the inside of my heels, and on the sides of my small toes, plus some developing on the balls of my feet that concerned me the most. Believe it or not, I chose to not do anything other than lance them, thinking that they’ll be okay. Yeah I know — because of my poor decision, I ended up paying the price for it later on. I put on my headlamp, changed tops, grabbed my flashlight, filled up my bladder, ate a cookie, then checked out. I had thought I put my long sleeve top in that bag, but realized later that I had planned to be there much earlier, and didn’t have anything warm until later.
I left the aid station as the sun was almost completely set with the incredible Jussi Hamalainen, on his way to 19 finishes at AC. He was paced by a very energetic runner, who recognized me from Massanutten — unfortunately, the conversation ended as quickly as it started, and didn’t see them for the rest of the race.
Shortcut Saddle to Newcomb Pass (20:40-23:42): At the aid station, I drank a cup of Mountain Dew, and had some soup that hit the spot before crossing the road. Normally, I would be looking forward to that long downhill fireroad descent, but with my aching feet, I was now dreading it, and it went by very slowly. When I reached the bridge at the bottom, I was very much welcoming the climb up to Newcomb’s. The 2+ mile climb didn’t feel as long as the previous ones for some reason, and was passed by quite a few runners during that stretch who offered word of encouragement, including Francisco Fabian another local runner I see often on the trails.
Newcomb Pass to Chantry Flats (23:53-02:35): At that aid station, I finally took out my light wind breaker from my pack and put it on since I knew it would be a cold and long section all the way into Chantry. I changed socks there, but still did not take care of my blisters, which were slowly starting to get worse. Most of that section would be relatively downhill, with a short climb out of the canyon up to Chantry the last half mile or so, but it took me over 2.5 hours to cover roughly 6.5 miles. I usually like that trail during the day, but at night, it was much different — it was very dark and narrow as we countoured along the canyon. During that stretch, Larry Ramaekers and his pacer flew by me looking very strong. The sign at the last trail junction always throws me off because it looks like it says 6 more miles until Chantry, but it actually says .6 miles.
Chantry Flats to Idlehour (02:54-06:42): I eventually made it into the aid station, and saw David Overstreet there waiting for his runner. He helped me with filling my bladder, as I finally decided to tape my feet, and started applying some duct tape after a quick cleanup job. I glanced over and saw Larry still at the aid station, but he left shortly after, and wouldn’t see him until the finish. At that time, Catra came barreling in with her pacer, and left hardly spending any time there. That motivated me to get my butt in gear, and start the long steep trek up Wintercreek to the Toll Road — a 3000′ climb which I’ve always hated during training, but was somewhat looking forward to then, since it was easier on my feet. Surprisingly enough, I caught Catra and another runner and their pacers shortly after I started the climb, and managed to stay fairly close until we got to around Hoegees. I let them pass me there, and lost site of Catra, as we headed up the numerous switchbacks towards Manzanita Ridge. That section seemed to go on forever, even though I knew that trail, having done it several times in the past. When I reached the Sierra Madre Trail junction,
I wanted to lay down on the newly installed bench, but resisted the temptation and continued along the last half mile to the Toll Rd where I saw the other runner and his pacer from earlier. I stopped briefly there to catch my breath, then started the long downhill into Idlehour, which was very slow going for me. The sun was coming up at that point, which I typically look forward to because the start of the new day gives me an extra boost and my second-wind. That stretch could’ve been worse, but the fireroad had been recently plowed, and was now extremely well groomed and should’ve been nice to run on, but I couldn’t take advantage of it due to my blisters. David and his runner passed me at that section, along with a couple others, including the one I passed at the top of Wintercreek. I finally made it into Idlehour, where I saw Deb Clem, who helped me patch my feet one last time.
Idlehour to Sam Merrill (06:52-08:58): I knew that section well, having done it during training before, and also because it was part of a race I conducted earlier in the year. I had heard Hal and the trail maintenance group did quite a job a few weeks back, and was looking forward to seeing how it was at the bottom of the canyon. Before I got to the bottom though, Norm Richardson finally caught me, and he looked really good at that point. We exchanged greetings and a few words of encouragement before he went ahead. Once I reached the campground, I soon noticed that that section was indeed now passable — only a few months before, that area was full of debris caused by the heavy rainstorms that damaged much of the southland earlier in the year. After crossing the stream, we started our ascent out of the canyon towards Sam Merrill — a very long and slow climb. Throughout most of that section, Mt Wilson and all of its towers were clearly visible to the north, along with Mt Lowe directly in front.
Sam Merrill to Millard Canyon (09:07-11:12): I finally got into the Sam Merrill aid station where I was surprised to see Norm still sitting in a chair. I started feeling better there, especially after having a slice of cold cheese pizza and some soda. Norm and I did some quick math as to how much time we had left, and headed out together realizing we should have enough time to finish without too much pressure from the cutoffs. I knew that next section and how technical it was, so I wanted to try and run as much as possible to get a bit of cushion on our cutoffs, and looking back, glad I did. That was one of the more rocky trails, with several water bars and drop-offs, which in most other times would not be that significant, but after 90 miles, it made things extremely difficult and painful. It was also getting very warm at that point, and much of the trail is exposed to direct sunlight. Norm pulled way ahead there — he was at least several switchbacks ahead of me, making very good time on the downhills, as I was painfully making my way through to the bottom. At the Echo Mountain junction, we countour along the Mt Lowe railway to the Sunset Ridge trail, which we take all the way down into Millard Canyon. As I popped off the single track into the campground and the last aid station, I was greeted by Michael Grosso, who was volunteering at the aid station with Bill Graney. It was nice to see them, and know that we were just 5 miles from finishing. Surprisingly, Norm was still at the aid station, even though he was well ahead of me once we left Sam Merrill almost 2 hours before. He was having difficulty at that point, but I was feeling relatively good — the blisters now a minor annoyance as compared to the various other parts of my body that was hurting equally at that point. We decided to go in together, which I thought would be a great way to end our long day, and for Norm, a long journey that started at Old Dominion earlier in the year to complete the Last Great Race — what an accomplishment for him, and an honor for me to accompany him.
Millard Canyon to Johnson Field (11:15-13:19): We said thanks and goodbye to Bill and Michael, and headed for home, starting off with a short climb out of the campground before dropping down into the canyon onto El Prieto. We were moving pretty slowly at that point, but wasn’t too concerned about the time, since we had close to 3 hours to cover about 5 miles. That section was somewhat similar to the Sturtevant to Chantry stretch, where we would be zig-zagging along the stream. Just before we got to the trailhead, we saw and heard Xy and Eugene behind us, looking like they were doing a 5k. A quick exchange of greetings, as we let them go ahead. We probably could’ve gone in together, but almost immediately after they passed us, Norm experienced a sudden pain in his leg, and said that it could be a stress fracture. That reduced him to a crawl, and we were still about a little more than a mile from the finish, but had just over an hour to go. He told me to go on, but I declined his offer, saying that there was nothing for me to gain by finishing a few minutes faster, and that we were going in together. Honestly, I was a bit concerned about the time remaining, since we were barely moving, and I knew we still had a ways to go. We soon got to where we were able to see the finish, yet we were still moving at the same pace. I looked at my watch, and figured we would be able to finish. As we slowly walked towards the finish, I thought about some runners who were still out on the course. Robert’s status was still unknown, and we were wondering if he DNF’d at some point (hopefully not), then we also realized that Hans hadn’t passed us either.
The last section was along a paved road, leading towards the JPL parking lot and Johnson Field, immediately adjacent to it, and can be seen from about a half mile away. The clock was ticking away, and it seemed like we weren’t making much progress. I wanted to run, but felt it was more important to stay with Norm. I knew he would be okay and finish, but we were going to finish together.
Finish: After what felt like an eternity, we came into everyone’s view, so the crowd started to respond to our arrival. Hal and Dan Brendan met us once we reached the grass, and helped Norm make his way across the last few feet to the finish. As I stood there beneath the finish banner, it took a few seconds to realize that I was done — I was so distracted keeping Norm company that I forgot that I was still in the race as well. I was finally home. Norm was being tended to by the medics, and I went to see what kinds of food and drinks were being offered. Not too long after I got a burger and hot dog, the rest of the field came in — Hans, Shannon, then Robert Andrulis, earning the honors of being DFL.
Awards began shortly after — Hal announced every finisher in reverse finishing order, so I received my buckle 7th, putting me in 52nd place out of 93 who started. I stuck around until Guillermo got his trophy and buckle, and gave a brief announcement over his PA to give thanks and recognize his newborn baby. The rest of the day/week were spent recovering — eating, sleeping, resting…the part I love the most about running 100 miles!